Singita Kruger National Park: December 2023
December in the Kruger National Park has seen an amazing transition, after a heat wave at the end of November caused the grasses and waterholes to dry out, the rain has brought back a bit of life and a bit of colour. The desolate pans which, until recently bore dry, cracked earth, are once again full of slushy mud for the elephants, rhinos and warthogs to wallow in. The grasses have, for the second time this season, changed from brown to green and sent up their inflorescence, with the helmeted guineafowls and flocks of red-billed sueleas enjoying the abundance of seeds. Some trees appear decorated for the festive season, the purple-pod cluster-leaf and certain Verchillia and Senegalia with their yellow pom-pom flowers, alive with the hum of pollinators.
A Sightings Snapshot for December follows:
The Shishangaan Pride was seen more than 20 times this month, with all 15 cubs still accounted for and healthy. This strong group of seven lionesses have successfully kept their young alive, even though the territorial Trichardt males have been very distracted in other areas of their territory. The pride is moving regularly, with the mothers keeping their cubs in the rocky outcrops of some of the smaller ridges in the southern portion of our reserve as they venture out to try and hunt.
Interestingly, the majority of the 15 sightings of the Trichardt males this month have been in the company of one or multiple of the Mananga lionesses, with one of the males being seen mating with a younger Mananga lioness over a period of three days. With their interests peaked by their new females within their more recently obtained portion of territory, the Trichardt males have been spending much more time in the central-western sections of the reserve in the last few months than we have previously seen.
The Mananga Pride is still relatively divided, with sightings being irregular and not always with the same numbers of individuals. They have been seen a few times with up to 11 individuals, but mostly we have been seeing smaller portions of between three and six individuals together.
The Maputo males were seen once in the far north-western region of the reserve, interestingly scent-marking in an area that the Trichardt males had been seen a few days prior.
An unidentified pride was sighted three times in early December, along the western boundary of our reserve. They were a bit uncertain of vehicles, but it will be interesting to see if they stay in the area, and allow us to see them again.
The Nhlanguleni female has been seen a few times in December, with the odd sighting too of one of her daughters, but never together, although the young female is remaining within the territory of her mother, which is normal.
The Dumbana female has been seen a handful of times this month, with most of the team hoping she may still have cubs hidden somewhere.
Dumbana 1:1 male, although not as prevalent as his brother, still appears to be making himself comfortable in the south-eastern reaches of his mother’s territory. More recently, he was found to have a baby wildebeest hoisted in a leadwood tree, which he fed upon for two days in the safety of the branches as a hyena circled below waiting for scraps.
Dumbana 3:3 has been the most commonly seen leopard for December. He has been moving a great deal within the reserve area and covering a lot of ground from the south, close to the lodge, to the central areas. During his movements, he has been seen scent-marking in certain areas, so perhaps in the absence of the constant presence of other males, he is laying claim.
The Monzo male leopard has been seen patrolling his usual territory, mostly near the N’wanetsi River coming north from Lebombo Lodge.
The young female leopard who has been seen around the southern sector of the reserve for the past few months is still seen regularly. She grows in confidence around the vehicles and has even been seen with a kill in a leadwood tree - a male impala which she had hoisted.
An unknown male and female pair were seen mating in the western regions of the reserve, close to Gudzane Dam. The female seemed slightly unsure of the vehicles, while the male appeared much more confident, but the female's drive to mate drew her close to the male even if that meant coming closer to the vehicles. These were not the only unidentified leopards seen this month, which is fantastic because it shows there is a healthy population in the area.
African wild dogs
A pack of seven adults with seven pups was seen a few times in December, most often in the mountainous areas to the east, where they can rest in the cool nooks and crannies of the drainage lines during the heat of the day. With plenty of baby impala and wildebeest around, easy prey is plentiful.
A pack of four males has been seen a few times since mid-December. These males could very well be a dispersal pack which have left their natal pack behind in search of other opportunities.
We have not had any cheetah sightings reported on the reserve in December, but they have been seen between the lodge and the airstrip occasionally, hunting in the open grasslands.
Many spotted hyenas have been seen in the past few weeks, most often alone or in pairs and regularly near the pack of African wild dogs or waiting patiently at the base of the tree in which a leopard has stashed its kill. It is always difficult to predict where we might find hyenas because they seem to always just appear when you least expect them!
December has been a great month for elephant sightings, there have been so many breeding herds and bulls moving around and enjoying the vegetation which is in abundance. Many bulls have been in musth, which is a period where the bulls are essentially ready for breeding and their hormone levels change accordingly, driving them to seek out a female who might be receptive. In this time, breeding herds can become stressed with the presence and advances of these big males, and will often try to avoid them to keep their calves out of harm’s way.
Although there has been plentiful quality grazing across the reserve, and an abundance of water for drinking and wallowing, there have been a handful of buffalo sightings on the reserve in December, but when they have been seen, it has been in very impressive, large herds spanning as far as the eye can see, which is amazing to behold.
The open grasslands in and around Singita have been teaming with zebra, taking advantage of the abundant and good quality grazing coming up in the open areas, especially those which were burnt earlier this year.
The impala and wildebeest young are out in full force. They are sometimes curious of the vehicles as we drive up to them, often running away but then slowly edging closer to get a better look or a better smell of this big grey creature that they see so often. They make for very cute entertainment.
Rare animals and other sightings
To the surprise of everyone, there has been a sable antelope sighted in the northern reaches of the reserve, which was cause for great excitement from the guiding team, as this is not common at all.
In the last few months, December included, there has been the occasional sighting of eland, which has been interesting because it is mostly one or two individuals seen, in conjunction with other herbivores for the safety in numbers.
A handful of resident klipspringer pairs have been seen, but with the vegetation on the steep banks starting to thicken, you have to look very hard to spot them on their impressive perches.
With the many impala lambs in the area, we have had several sightings of martial eagles, scanning the plains below for any opportunity to take an unsuspecting lamb.
The migratory birds have come out in full swing, with the most recent arrival being the European rollers, with their beautiful blue plumage adding yet another splash of colour to the green backdrop of the vegetation, in addition to the woodland kingfishers which have been here for a while now.
Several bird species have gone through their yearly moult - the pin-tailed and long-tailed paradise whydahs changing from their usual dull tones of brown to their beautiful breeding plumage to attract the attention of the females.